March 20, 2012
Leaders of Indonesia's major Islamic organisations say the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) should abandon violent tactics that go against religious teachings and Indonesian law.
The group, known for raiding bars, clubs and gaming halls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, reached a new level of visibility in January when members threw rocks at the Home Affairs Ministry to protest its decision to annul local laws banning alcohol sales.
Over the past two years, the FPI has been implicated in violent acts more often than any civil group in Indonesia, the daily Tempo quoted National Police spokesman Saud Usman Nasution as saying.
In the latest incident, on February 28th, the FPI and another group, the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), hurled stones and insults at one another outside a Yogyakarta court where a local FPI leader was on trial. A television cameraman hit by a flying rock was rushed to hospital with a head injury.
A leader of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organisation, said the group's tactics are both contrary to Islam and at odds with Indonesia's status as a secular democracy.
"Historically, violent acts are forbidden. Even in every war in the past, Islamic leaders strictly prohibited the destruction of public places, places of worship and natural resources, such as water resources," Muhammadiyah Secretary Abdul Mukti told Khabar Southeast Asia.
The FPI and similar hardline groups should respect the right of every Indonesian to live in peace, he said.
"As citizens of Indonesia, everyone must obey the country's law, including Muslims. Although Muslims are the largest population here, basically no one is ever allowed to force Islamic law on other people. Muhammadiyah will always do its best to support every effort of the country's law enforcement as a part of our responsibility as citizens," Abdul said.
Calls to disband the FPI grew louder after members threw rocks at the Home Affairs Ministry in January, prompting the ministry to send the group a second warning letter over its use of violence. On February 15th, Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said the FPI was one violation away from having its license suspended, The Jakarta Globe reported.
The ministry has the power to suspend the FPI's licence under the 1985 Mass Organisations Law, which gives it authority to monitor civil organisations and disband any group that causes losses to the state.
But in weighing how to handle the group, the government must also protect freedom of speech and freedom of association rights, Abdul said.
"The government must act very carefully here, to make sure if someone is punished for a violent act, it is purely because of personal guilt and not because of political or institutional background," he added.
Slamet Effendy Yusuf, a top leader of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, says the FPI is not the sole source of the problem. Anarchism in general has become more common in Indonesia, he explained.
"It's as if anarchism has become the new model for an organisation to express its views. We've seen it not only with religious groups like the FPI, but with many organisations," he said, citing as an example the members of a youth group who threw rocks at a government official's vehicle.
"There should be strict regulations to avoid mass organisations from getting involved with violent acts," Slamet said, adding that he opposes the idea of shutting the FPI down.
"Indonesia is a democratic country, not an authoritarian one. By freezing the FPI, the government would only violate their fundamental rights," he said.
Nevertheless, there has been mounting public pressure to rein in the group.
Putra, a 34-year-old Jakarta resident who asked that his full name not be used, says he supported the FPI when he was a student, but has since come to suspect its motives.
"The FPI, in my opinion, is no more than a vehicle for some high profile people to secure their businesses," he said, accusing the group of attacking small gambling operations and protecting large ones.
On February 14th, dozens of people calling themselves the "FPI-Free Indonesia Movement" staged a rally in Jakarta, protesting violence committed by religious groups across the country.
One of the demonstrators, 31-year-old Kartika Jahja, said she had a small café in south Jakarta and fears the FPI will storm the place every year during Ramadan.
"I believe that it is not only one or two groups who wish for violent groups such as FPI to be disbanded. It is what the whole people of Indonesia want," she added.